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Unhealthy Anger
Whether You Let it Out or Hold it In, New Research Shows That Your Anger Can Corrode Your Health

March 12th, 2004

By Ken McGrath :eCureMe Staff Writer
March 10th, 2004 : Physician Approved

It can ruin your whole day, but a fit of rage can also increase your risk of stroke, push up your weight and predispose you to smoking. A host of new studies released in recent months suggests that people should be monitoring how angry they get in the same way they keep stock of their blood pressure or cholesterol level.

Stroke Risk

Men with short tempers and a general antipathy towards others are warping their hearts and pushing up their stroke risk, according a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association on March 2nd. The report, which draws on personality and cardiovascular health data from over 3,500 men and women, found that men who reported such characteristics as reacting furiously to criticism, or wanting to hit someone when frustrated, were 20% more likely to die from any cause than calmer study participants and had a 10% increased chance of developing atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, otherwise known as arrhythmia, is an irregular heartbeat. In those who suffer from it, two of the heart’s chambers quiver instead of beating. Since the regular beating motion of the heart is what keeps blood flowing, when it quivers, blood doesn’t move effectively and is more likely to form clots. The more clots from, the greater the likelihood that one may reach the brain, thus causing a stroke.

The type of hostility towards others that can go hand-in-hand with high levels of anger also invites cardiovascular dysfunction. Men in the study who agreed with statements like "I’ve often met supposed experts who were no smarter than me" and "I frequently work under people who take credit for my efforts" were 30% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those with less defensive and suspicious attitudes.

Anger Weight

More study results, delivered at the American Heart Association’s annual conference on cardiovascular disease and prevention shortly after the first report appeared, noted that teenagers who aren’t great at handling their anger are more likely to be overweight.

The study tracked 160 young people for three years, periodically measuring their waistlines and styles of anger expression. Two groups of teens stood out. Those who over-expressed anger - frequently losing their tempers - were found to be heavier than their more moderate peers. The same was true of teens that constantly suppressed their negative feelings. The more dysfunctional a subject’s method of handling anger, the heavier they tended to be the report’s author told reporters.

Exactly why anger expression styles were tied to weight levels wasn’t immediately clear. Researchers involved speculated that teens that have trouble expressing their anger might be less social, and thus spend more time indoors - close to snacks and away from physical activity. Another potential explanation is that, without an adequate outlet for their feelings, young people may calm themselves with fatty comfort foods.

Born To Smoke

An anxious, aggressive and angry personality may also indicate a genetic template that makes some people "born to smoke".

Researchers from the University of California at Irvine have found that certain hostile personality traits may be tied to the same genetic variation that creates susceptibility to nicotine addiction. Their work, released in January, put a group of high and low anger volunteers (some smokers, some not) through a brain scan test.

After being categorized by their personality types, subjects put on nicotine patches. As the nicotine made its way through their systems, the subjects’ brains were imaged using positron emission tomography, more commonly known as PET scans. The scans of low-hostility volunteers didn’t show any significant changes in response to the nicotine. Higher-hostility volunteers, however, did display metabolic changes in the brain. In addition, the higher- hostility volunteers needed a higher dose of nicotine to elicit the same chemical reactions in the brain that low-hostility volunteers experienced at low doses.

The scientists concluded that even if someone with a fiery personality never touched tobacco, they would still have a predisposition to addiction.

Put together, the increased risks of stroke, weight gain and predisposition to smoking can invite a host of other, equally serious problems: heart disease, diabetes and cancer are just a few. The first step towards a healthy lifestyle, it would seem, starts by always trying to look on the bright side.

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